Discrimination and harassment don’t just damage workplace morale and cause you to lose valuable personnel — they can also place your company at risk for ruinous lawsuits. The average court settlement for a discrimination or harassment lawsuit comes to about $125,000; harassment trials have resulted in awards of up to $168 million. If you want to protect both your workers and your business, the logical place to start is with strong, clear anti-discrimination and anti-harassment policies
The #MeToo campaign that recently hit social media has brought an important subject into the public’s eye – sexual harassment and sexual assault. This problem is one that stretches far and wide, but it is unknown how prevalent it really is. One issue that is particularly troublesome is that many employees don’t feel comfortable bringing their harassment complaints to the human resources department or any other representative of their employer.
Companies must ensure that they provide solid training for all employees as well as a clear plan for employees who are subjected to harassment of any sort. This strategy must also include a framework that ensures swift action to address the complaint.
One of the top priorities in these cases is separating the victim from the alleged harasser. Employees must be assured that retaliatory measures won’t be taken if they report sexual harassment, as this fear can keep a victim from speaking up. Anxiety over being fired or having to deal with other problems at work because they lodged a formal complaint can be a true deterrent in creating a positive work environment.
An estimated one in four employees are affected by sexual harassment while they are working, but experts believe that this is a low estimate because of the fear of reporting. Proper training regarding sexual harassment is one way to combat the problem of employees feeling fearful to report these actions.
From the employer’s standpoint, training can go a long way toward protecting the employer. One of the fastest growing complaint areas in which the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission deals with now is complaints of retaliation. The liability that companies face from retaliation complaints is actually much greater than what they face for a complaint of sexual harassment.
Factual complaints are a key point in sexual harassment cases. As much as employers need to encourage victims of sexual harassment to come forward, they must also require that these complaints are based on fact and not fabricated.
One way that employers can encourage factual complaints is to ask that employees clearly document the incidents, reporting them as soon as they happen. Keeping track of the time and date, type of action and any witnesses to the harassment can help with the investigation.
Witnesses must be encouraged to give a factual statement about the events when they are asked about them. Speaking to them privately and ensuring them that adverse actions for factual statements won’t be initiated or tolerated.
The situation gets touchy when there aren’t any witnesses, but employers must still take these complaints seriously. The more information the victim can provide can make the investigation much easier and a bit faster for the employer.
Providing solid training on what constitutes harassment is a vital element of a defensible position for your company. Make sure your sexual harassment training is fully compliant with all current laws and, just as importantly, make it easy for employees to complete that training, repeating it as necessary to ensure compliance. Ideally, your training should be available 24-7 and outline a specific and understandable path for complaints, questions, and other two-way communication on this topic.
To protect your company and your employees, your harassment training should also include other kinds of harassment such as workplace bullying.
Ultimately, sexual harassment complaints are a difficult spot for all employers as well as employees. Through proper training and a solid plan for handling these complaints, employers can help to make their workplace a harassment-free zone.